Skip to main content

"The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir": A Dee Williams Story

The author is in the process of building a tiny house. They are always looking for more sustainable ways to live.

Who is Dee Williams?

Who is Dee Williams?

The Tiny House Movement

If you have not heard of the tiny house movement, the chances are good that you have been living under a stone for the last few years. People are turning to micro-living for reasons that range from the financial and ecological to just wanting to simplify.

Pop culture has taken an interest in the movement. Shows like Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House Nation depict real people as they attempt to find the tiny home of their dreams. Every movement has its pioneers, and the tiny house movement is no exception. The father of the modern-day tiny house movement is Jay Shaffer.

But if Jay is the father, then there is no doubt that Dee Williams is this movement's godmother—or at least the super hip aunt. Luckily, she wrote a book about her experience.

What Is a Tiny House?

While there is yet to be created a strict definition of what constitutes a tiny house, typically a home under 500 square feet is considered tiny. There are some people creating houses under 100 square feet. The idea is to minimize you material life in order to maximize the rest of your life. A home of any size should protect you from the elements and enable you to carry out the basic functions of life.

Tiny houses are often set on wheels to skirt building codes although this is not necessarily the only way to go tiny. Some people convert old buses or campers. Some build a house on a trailer. Some convert old sheds or yurts into regular living spaces. There really is no wrong way to do it as long as you stay safe and stay on the right side of the law.

Origins of the Tiny House Movement

The tiny house movement started with Jay Shafer, who simply wanted to design a more efficient home. Not a fan of house work, Shafer wanted a home that was super efficient and easy to maintain. In Jay's own words, “When I took out all of the unnecessary parts of the house, it turned out to be a very small house.” In 1999 he was awarded “Most Innovative Design” in Natural Home Magazine's House of the Year contest. That is when tiny houses began to gain some attention and a movement was born.

20 years later, there are books, blogs and television shows about people building and buying their own tiny houses.

Once upon a time, Dee Williams was a 40-year-old state employee with a three-bedroom house in Portland, Oregon. She lived in a pretty traditional sort of house which required a lot of work-- as houses often do. She found herself spending weekends at hardware stores, studying DIY books and making repairs rather than hiking or taking kayaking trips. She had a series of roommates to help make the mortgage payments as she put much of her time and energy into fixing up her old house. Then Dee suffered a health crisis. That woke her from the sort of life that so many people lead: dedicating untold amounts of time and money to her home. She realized that she spent more time maintaining and paying for the house than she wanted. Life is too short and too precious. Caring for a house was not how she wanted to spend her time.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

Now that I live in my little house, I work part-time and pay $8 a month for utilities. There's no mortgage, no Saturday morning with a vacuum, mop or dust cloth. I have free time to notice the weather . . . All the time I save leaves me free to cavort and volunteer, building other little houses with friends, helping care for my elderly neighbor. . .

— Dee Williams

Discovering Tiny Houses

It was while sitting in a doctor's waiting room that she picked up a magazine and read an article about Jay Shafer and his tiny house. She was enthralled, eventually making an appointment to meet with Jay. She was determined to design her own tiny house. She carefully worked on her plans and when she was finally ready, Dee started collecting materials. She worked a few hours a day around her regular job to build her tiny house, sometimes enlisting the help of willing friends. It ended up taking her about three months to complete. When she was done, she sold her big house to a friend and looked for a place to park her new home.

Living Tiny and Big

Dee ended up parking her home in the backyard of some friends. In lieu of rent, she cared for the woman who lived in one of the homes that share the backyard where she lived. This woman became a treasured friend. While the city of Portland, Oregon does not allow people to live in RVs (which is what her home was technically classified as) it does permit special dispensations for care givers.

She now had the time and the space to appreciate the little things like the sound of the rain on her roof, talking with friends into the evening, playing with her dog and watching her friends' children grow.

During the next 12 years or so, Dee became not just a pioneer in the tiny house movement but one of its most prominent spokespeople. She did interviews, wrote articles, spoke at events and started a business to help other people who also wanted to build their own tiny homes.

The Book

The Big Tiny doesn't just tell the story of a woman who decides to build a house. It is part memoir and part how-to, yes, but it is more. It is journey and discovery shared in mesmerizing prose. It is like sitting at the feet of a wise auntie and listening to her weave the stories of her life. Even if you are not interested in building a tiny house of your own, this book is well worth the read.

Although, if you are interested in building a tiny house, this book might just be the inspiration that you are looking for.

Have you read The Big Tiny by Dee Williams? What did you think?


Rebecca Long (author) from somewhere in the appalachian foothills on February 27, 2019:

Thanks so much. It is my favorite book at the moment.

Danielle Popovits from Traverse City, MI on February 26, 2019:

I enjoyed reading this!

Related Articles